Searching on campus: Marriage market effects of the student gender composition

weddingThe growing success of online dating platforms seems to indicate that finding your partner in the “real” world becomes harder. But still, there are such offline opportunities: At universities, for example, people with lined-up interests as well as similar age and education interact each day.

Given that women’s attainment in higher education has substantially increased over the past decades, universities may have become even more important as a marriage market for the high-skilled. A recent discussion paper by IZA researcher Nico Pestel analyzes how resulting changes in gender composition among university students by field of study have affected the marriage market success of university-educated individuals in Germany.

University teaching as well as students’ social environment in Germany is traditionally very much segmented by fields of study. For example, a female university student enrolled in a field characterized by a predominantly male student body (e.g. Engineering) encounters male students substantially more often than a student in a predominantly female field (e.g. Humanities).

Accordingly, the probability of a woman meeting a potential opposite-sex partner is significantly higher in Engineering than in Humanities, making within-field marriages more likely. At the same time, students whose gender is relatively abundant within their field of study – men in Engineering and women in Humanities – are consequently more likely to meet a potential partner outside their field of study or outside the university environment.

The analysis is based on administrative information on the gender composition of students enrolled in (West) German universities broken down by 41 detailed fields of study over the period from 1977 to 2011 combined with data from the German Microcensus from 2003 to 2011. This allows to exploit substantial variation in student sex ratios experienced at the time of education over time and within field of study.

Women in female-dominated fields less likely to get married

The results confirm that a higher female share of students negatively affects marriage market opportunities for women. Female graduates more often remain single or live in a cohabiting couple and are less often married when women represent a larger share of students in the respective field of study. For men, the exact opposite holds. A higher share of males in the field is associated with a higher probability of being married.

Moreover, the student sex ratio significantly affects the composition of couples with respect to educational levels and field of study. For women, a higher share of the own gender among fellow students decreases the probability of having a partner holding a degree in the exact same field.

However, the findings indicate distinct gender differences for the alternative outcomes of having a partner holding a degree from a different field or having a lower level of formal education. When men are more abundant in the field, male graduates are more likely to “marry down” with respect to educational status, while women are more likely to be in a homogamous relationship when the female share is high.

Overall, these findings imply that changes in the gender composition of students may have implications for the socio-demographic composition of societies since we may expect increases in assortative mating of couples when the formation of same-field relationships is enhanced in male-dominated fields.

This may have longer-run impacts on income inequality and intergenerational mobility. At the same time, further increases in the female share of students in fields already dominated by women may increase the number of university-educated women remaining single (longer), which may in turn have negative implications for fertility among high-skilled women.

Download the paper (IZA DP No. 11175):

Read the German summary here.

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Civility and trust in social media

onlinecivilityTrust is a fundamental asset for economic development. Social media have been credited with the potential of reinvigorating trust by offering new opportunities for social and political participation. This view has been recently challenged by the rising phenomenon of online incivility, which has made the environment of social networking sites (SNS) increasingly hostile to users.

Online incivility is a manner of harassing behavior that can range from aggressive commenting in threads, incensed discussion and rude critiques, to outrageous claims, hate speech, and more severe forms of harassment such as purposeful embarrassment and physical threats. Pew Research Center (PRC) reports that the majority of Americans have been targeted, or have witnessed others being targeted, with online incivility. The descriptive evidence available so far indicates that social media users perceive incivility as the norm of online interaction.

Given the penetration of social media and the importance of trust in the economic activity, the role of SNS-mediated social interaction is also a relevant topic for economic research. What are the consequences of online incivility and civility on social media users’ trust in others? Does incivility weaken the positive potential of social media?

Experiment in a Facebook setting

To answer these questions, a research team consisting of Angelo Antoci, Laura Bonelli, Fabio Paglieri, Tommaso Reggiani, and Fabio Sabatini conducted a novel experiment in a Facebook setting to study how the effect of social media on trust varies depending on the civility or incivility of online interaction. The study is now available as IZA Discussion Paper No. 11290.

The authors compared the trust and trustworthiness of three samples of participants randomly involved in two kinds of Facebook-mediated interaction. One group was exposed to four, authentic, threads of uncivil discussion. Another group was exposed to the same threads in which uncivil discussions have been replaced with polite interactions by experimenters.

The third group was used as a control condition: participants were exposed to the same thematics used in the other treatments, but in the form of short news excerpts and without any kind of social interaction. To assess trust and trustworthiness, the researchers then made the experiment participants play a trust game.

They found that participants exposed to civil Facebook interaction are significantly more trusting. In contrast, when the use of Facebook is accompanied by the experience of online incivility, no significant changes occur in users’ behavior.

The results of the experiment indicate that when the tone of discussions deviates from the “uncivil status quo” and is accompanied by civil interaction, it significantly raises participants’ trust with respect to both the uncivil treatment and the control condition, whereas it has no effect on trustworthiness. In contrast, if Facebook use is associated with the experience of online incivility in line with the status quo, no significant change in participants’ trust and trustworthiness with respect to the control condition can be observed.

Incivility as the norm of online interaction

This study provides the first experimental evidence of a positive effect of online civility on social trust. While exposure to civil online interaction induced a significant increase in people’s trust, the opposite condition, i.e. online incivility, seemed to be considered “business as usual” and thus did not produce any effect on trust, with respect to the control treatment.

This lack of effect of online incivility is striking, whether it is interpreted as a form of expectation matching (incivility is what people routinely expect online, thus being exposed to it does not change their expectations on others’ behaviors) or as a sort of immunization effect (people are used to such a high level of online incivility that the experimental manipulation failed to elicit a response): in either case, incivility seems to be perceived as the norm of online interaction, rather than the exception.

This is a rather depressing finding, but also one in full accordance with the survey data and the anecdotal evidence available so far. What is much less depressing, and indeed encouraging, is the positive effect on trust of even a brief exposure to online civility: contrary to intuition, according to which a quarrel is much more salient than a polite discussion, a simple lack of aggression in expressing a difference of opinions online acts as a powerful determinant of higher levels of trust towards other people.

Echo chambers and the polarization of public opinion

SNS are facing increasing criticism and scrutiny, since recent analyses of key political events (such as the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum) have suggested a link between the extreme polarization of public opinion and the relatively small number of platforms that monopolize online discourse – most notably, Facebook and Twitter.

Public discussions on such platforms have also been shown to create and maintain so called “echo chambers”, thus leading to increased polarization and partisanship. Therefore the authors are not entirely surprised to find confirmation, in their results, of a rather bleak outlook on public discourse on SNS, where uncivil debate seems to be considered as normal.

However, the striking result is that even minimal exposure to the opposite trend, i.e. civil online interaction, has a significant effect on social trust. This suggests that what is at stake in moderating online discussion is not simply the prevention of negative phenomena (hate speech, cyberbullying, digital harassment, etc.), but also the achievement of significant social benefits, most notably a measurable increase in social capital that can, in turn, positively affect economic development.

Promoting civil discussion on online platforms

The take-home message for policy makers is rather straightforward: instead of only focusing on fighting against noxious online behavior, we should also (and perhaps mostly) create the preconditions to promote civil discussion on online platforms. Obviously, this goal cannot be effectively pursued via strict regulations, but rather needs to be fostered by carefully designing (or tweaking) the platforms themselves, bringing a wide variety of competencies to bear on such a task: most notably, psychological insight on users’ attitudes and profiles, interaction design principles from ergonomics, nudging strategies and incentives planning from economics.

Download the paper (IZA DP No. 11290):

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‘Dreamers’ could give US economy – and even American workers – a boost

By Amy Hsin (City University of New York)

Earlier this month, hopes were high that a bipartisan deal could be reached to resolve the fate of the “Dreamers,” the millions of undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Those hopes all but vanished on Jan. 11 as President Donald Trump aligned himself with hard-line anti-immigration advocates within the GOP and struck down bipartisan attempts to reach a resolution.

File 20180119 80203 1iuvh1m.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1 Demonstrators chant slogans during an immigration rally in support of DACA.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

In the final hours before the recent government shutdown, many Democrats were insisting that any short-term funding agreement must include a resolution for Dreamers.

One of the arguments advanced by those who oppose giving them citizenship is that doing so would hurt native-born workers and be a drain on the U.S. economy. My own research shows the exact opposite is true.

Lives in limbo

All in all, about 3.6 million immigrants living in the U.S. entered the country as children. Without options for legal residency, their lives hang in the balance.

To address this problem, the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. DACA gave almost 800,000 of them temporary legal work permits and reprieve from deportation. Although his successor terminated the program in September, this month a federal court halted that process, allowing current recipients the ability to renew their status.

Any cause for celebration, however, was short-lived as the Department of Justice immediately responded by asking the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. The Supreme Court has not yet announced a decision. In the meantime, the future of DACA recipients remains uncertain.

Today, the best hope for a permanent fix for the Dreamers rests on bipartisan efforts to enact the 2017 DREAM Act – for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors – which would extend pathways to citizenship to undocumented youth who entered the United States as children, graduated from high school and have no criminal record. A version of the act was first introduced in 2001.

The debate surrounding the DREAM Act is often framed around two seemingly irreconcilable views.

On one side, immigration activists advocate for legalization based on pleas to our common humanity. These Dreamers, after all, were raised and educated in the United States. They are American in every sense but legally.

On the other, critics contend that legalization will come at a cost to U.S.-born workers, and their well-being should be prioritized.

Many immigrant advocates consider the DREAM Act the best hope for a permanent fix. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Impact of Dreamer citizenship on wages

My research with economists Ryan Edwards and Francesc Ortega estimated the economic impact of the 2017 DREAM Act if it were to become law. About 2.1 million of the undocumented youths would likely be eligible to become citizens based on its age and educational requirements.

Our research showed that immigrants given permanent legal work permits under the DREAM Act would not compete with low-skilled U.S.-born workers because only those with at least a high school degree are eligible for legalization. The act also encourages college attendance by making it one of the conditions for attaining legal residency.

We also found that the act would have no significant effect on the wages of U.S.-born workers regardless of education level because Dreamers make up such a small fraction of the labor force. U.S.-born college graduates and high school dropouts would experience no change in wages. Those with some college may experience small declines of at most 0.2 percent a year, while high school graduates would actually experience wage increases of a similar magnitude.

For the legalized immigrants, however, the benefits would be substantial. For example, legalized immigrants with some college education would see wages increase by about 15 percent, driven by expansions in employment opportunities due to legalization and by the educational gains that the DREAM Act encourages.

President Trump’s termination of DACA has put the lives of Dreamers like Faride Cuevas, second from right, in limbo.

Broader economic benefits

The DREAM Act also promotes overall economic growth by increasing the productivity of legalized workers and expanding the tax base.

Lacking legal work options, Dreamers tend to be overqualified for the jobs they hold. My ongoing work with sociologist Holly Reed shows that the undocumented youth who make it to college are more motivated and academically prepared compared with their U.S.-born peers. This is at least in part because they had to overcome greater odds to attend college.

We find that they are also more likely than their native-born peers to graduate college with a degree. Yet despite being highly motivated and accomplished, undocumented college graduates are employed in jobs that are not commensurate with their education level, according to sociologist Esther Cho. With legal work options, they will be able to find jobs that match their skills and qualifications, making them more productive.

Legalization also improves the mental health of immigrants by removing the social stigma of being labeled a criminal and the looming threat of arrest and deportation.

From an economic standpoint, healthier and happier workers also make for a more productive workforce.

Overall, we estimate that the increases in productivity under the DREAM Act would raise the United States GDP by US$15.2 billion and significantly increase tax revenue.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham have been leading recent efforts to pass bipartisan immigration reform. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Everyone can win

The U.S. continues to grapple with how to incorporate the general population of nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.

The inability of the Trump administration and lawmakers from both parties to find common ground is emblematic of just how deeply divided Americans are between those who want to send most of them home and others who favor a path toward citizenship for many if not most of them.

While there appears to be no resolution in sight for the general population of 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, common bipartisan ground can be found on the issue of Dreamers. A recent survey found that 86 percent of Americans support granting them amnesty.

The DREAM Act offers an opportunity to enact a permanent resolution for a group widely supported by the public. What is more, our research shows a policy that affirms our common humanity also increases economic growth without hurting U.S.-born workers.

The ConversationThis is a win-win for everyone, whether you care about social justice or worry about U.S. workers.


Editor’s note: Amy Hsin (Queens College, City University of New York) co-authored The Economic Effects of Providing Legal Status to DREAMers (IZA Discussion Paper No. 11281) with Francesc Ortega (Queens College CUNY and IZA) and Ryan Edwards (UC Berkeley). This article was originally published on The Conversation. The reference to the government shutdown has been updated as the original article appeared before the shutdown.

For more research on the topic, see also the IZA World of Labor article:
Legalizing undocumented immigrants

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IZA Fellow Robert LaLonde (1958-2018)


Robert J. LaLonde

We regret to announce that Professor Robert LaLonde, IZA Research Fellow since 2001, passed away on January 17, 2018, after a long illness. Except for three years on the Michigan State University faculty, Bob spent his entire professional career, since receiving his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1985, at the University of Chicago, his undergraduate alma mater.

He is most well-known for his research on the evaluation of training programs and the measurement of the impact of labor market shocks, including worker displacement and immigration, and for the affection and respect that he inspired among his students and colleagues.

The far-reaching influence of his work has been chronicled over the years by academic journals, and most recently, in a series of essays published in his honor by the Journal of Labor Economics.

[more on the homepage of the Harris School, University of Chicago]

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What drives the gender pay gap?

mindthegapThe earnings differential between men and women is a recurring topic in academic research and policy debates. While the gender pay gap is sometimes interpreted as a blatant sign of discrimination that calls for stricter equal pay legislation, the story is far more complicated. For example, women may have a preference for certain sectors, firms and jobs that pay lower wages. Women with children are more likely to interrupt their careers or work part-time. A look at several recent IZA discussions papers shows that these alternative explanations are given different weight, depending on the focus of the analysis and the data used.

Evidence pointing at taste-based discrimination

Using a decade of annual wage and productivity data from New Zealand, an IZA paper by Isabelle Sin (Motu Economic and Public Policy Research), Steven Stillman (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano) and Richard Fabling finds that gender differences in sorting between industries and firms, as well as gender productivity differences, explain just a small fraction of the wage gap. They also reject statistical discrimination as a relevant explanation because the wage gap does not decrease over time even as employers should realize that women are no less productive than men.

The authors conclude that taste-based discrimination is the key driver of the earnings differential. According to the study, this notion is supported by the observation that the wage gap increases under favorable market conditions when employers find it easier to discriminate. The paper thus suggests that stronger enforcement of equal pay regulations could be beneficial for many women in New Zealand, but also in other OECD countries with similar labor markets.

Download the paper (IZA DP No. 10975):

Gender pay gap widens with age

Intra-household decisions in favor of the husband’s career explain why the gender wage gap increases over the life course, as demonstrated in a recent IZA paper by Erling Barth (Institute for Social Research), Sari Pekkala Kerr (Wellesley College) and Claudia Olivetti (Boston College). This is particularly true for college-educated workers, whose earnings profiles tend to be steeper. In terms of higher pay, women tend to benefit less from career moves. The authors use U.S. data to analyze the relative importance of shifts in the sorting of men and women across establishments and differential earnings growth within establishments.

They find that the within component is more important for college-educated workers, explaining three-fourths of their wage gap. The across component – the frequency and quality of job-to-job transitions ­– explains the last quarter for those with college education and the entire gap for those without. The gap is almost non-existent for single women. This may be because married women are often “tied movers”, accompanying their husbands who find a better job in a new city.

Download the paper (IZA DP No. 10974):

Part-time jobs are lower-paid and less stable

Another consequence of the traditional household division of labor is that women are much more prone to part-time work, which typically carries a lower accepted wage rate than full-time work. However, the part-time wage penalty can explain less than 10% (only 3.3% for low-educated workers) of the gender pay gap, according to an IZA paper by Kai Liu (Norwegian School of Economics), meanwhile published in Quantitative Economics. Liu points out that men and women also differ in their job turnover dynamics: women are more likely to quit jobs for non-employment, and job changes for women more often involve changes in hours of work.

Effects of counterfactual policies on the gender wage gap

Equal Pay legislation for part-time and full-time work would therefore do little to close the gender pay gap, also due to its behavioral impact on labor supply decisions. Instead, the study finds that Equal Protection policies aimed at equalizing the layoff probabilities for part-time and full-time workers would be more effective in reducing the gender wage gap, especially among low-educated individuals.

Download the complete paper (IZA DP No. 9255):

Willingness to compete affects career choices

So would women earn the same as men if there were no employer discrimination, no household division of labor, and no part-time wage penalty? Probably not, given that gender differences in the willingness to compete still affect career decisions and labor market outcomes, according to an IZA paper by Thomas Buser (University of Amsterdam), Noemi Peter (University of Groningen) and Stefan Wolter (University of Bern).

In an experiment with 1,500 Swiss 8th-graders, the authors find that the gender gap in willingness to compete is essentially zero among the lowest-ability students, but increases steadily with ability and reaches 30–40 percentage points for the highest-ability students. More competitive boys are more likely to choose a math or science-related academic specialization (high-ability boys) or a business-related apprenticeship (medium-ability boys), and are more likely to succeed in securing an apprenticeship position (low-ability boys). These findings relate to persistent gender differences in career outcomes.

Download paper (IZA DP No. 10976):

The above studies underscore that there are many drivers of the gender pay gap. While there is still disagreement about the major source of it, there is a growing consensus that policies to promote greater female lifetime work effort (e.g. better childcare provision or lower marginal tax rates encouraging female labor force participation) are most effective at achieving more equal pay.

For more information on this topic, explore the IZA World of Labor:

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When the unhealthy self kills our New Year’s resolutions

newyeargoals“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” — This quote attributed to Mark Twain describes what many people experience as they pledge to stop smoking, work out more often, or eat healthier. But why is it that so many of our New Year’s goals are short-lived?

According to psychologists and economists, lack of self-control causes people to make decisions they will later regret. Food consumption is a leading example of a setting in which self-control problems may play a role. Experimental evidence and the existence of a multi-billion dollar diet industry attest to this. However, there is limited direct evidence on self-control problems from observational consumption data because individuals’ food preferences are heterogeneous and may change over time or in response to changes in the economic environment.

A new IZA Discussion Paper by Laurens Cherchye (University of Leuven), Bram De Rock (University of Leuven), Rachel Griffth (University of Manchester), Martin O’Connell (Institute for Fiscal Studies), Kate Smith (Institute for Fiscal Studies) and Frederic Vermeulen (University of Leuven & IZA) fills this gap with empirical evidence on the existence, size and variation in self-control problems in food choice.

Google search trends reflect intentions to eat healthier

Internet search behavior can tell us a lot about people’s tendency to make (and fail to keep) New Year’s resolutions that would lead more healthy lifestyles: Time trends in Google searches for “diet” and “healthy food” show spikes in January and a steady decline as the year progresses.

graph - google search terms

Google search trends in the US and UK for “Diet” and “Healthy food”

To find out whether this trend also exists in actual consumption behavior, the researchers exploit longitudinal data on the grocery purchases of a sample of 3,645 single individuals in the UK. The data record all grocery purchases at the transaction level made and brought into the home by these individuals. Using a nutrient profile score, the authors separate the purchased foods and drinks into “healthy” and “unhealthy” baskets.

Healthy January, unhealthy December

The analysis reveals how the share of calories from “healthy foods” varies over time on each day between 2005 and 2012. In line with the Google search pattern, there is a spike in healthiness in January, followed by some decline, plateauing around the middle of the year, then further declining until the end of the year.

graph - share of calories from healthy foods

Share of calories from healthy foods over 2005-2011

From a theoretical perspective, the variation in diet quality within-person over time can be explained using a dual-self model, in which individual food purchase behavior reflects a compromise between a “healthy” and an “unhealthy” self. These two selves constantly bargain over the food budget and whether to buy fruits, vegetables or whole grains, or to buy unhealthy products such as soda, crisps and confectionery. Increases in the influence of the unhealthy self in decision-making thus indicates failure to exert self-control.

Just over half of calories from healthy foods

The empirical analysis also shows considerable variation in diet quality across individuals: 5% of individuals purchase more than 70% of their calories in healthy foods, while at the other extreme 5% buy less than 35% from healthy foods. On average, people purchase just over half (53%) of calories from healthy foods.

This variation is likely due to both preference heterogeneity and differences in the economic environment people face (such as food prices and budgets). It may also reflect persistent differences in individuals’ propensity to yield to temptation. The findings show that individuals with lower income experience greater variation in their spending on healthy foods, even after controlling for responses to price and budget changes. Younger people, on average, have more variation in their shopping baskets than older people.

Systematic changes also around Easter and birthdays

Easter and own birthdays are two other times of the year which are also associated with systematic changes in purchases of healthy foods. In the run up to these dates, the share of healthy foods purchased tends to decline, gradually over several days in the former case and more starkly a few days beforehand in the latter case. In both cases, the share of calories from unhealthy products recovers towards the pre-event level immediately following the occasion.

Share of calories from healthy foods around significant dates

Share of calories from healthy foods around significant dates

Download the complete paper (IZA DP No. 11205):

Image source: pixabay
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State-funded mobility assistance helps the unemployed

MAPsGiven that employment prospects vary substantially across regions in many industrialized countries, it seems economically attractive to geographically relocate unemployed job-seekers from depressed to prosperous regions in order to reduce overall unemployment. Governments thus offer financial support to unemployed job-seekers who search for and/or accept jobs in distant regions. Is this money well spent?

In a new discussion paper, Marco Caliendo (University of Potsdam & IZA), Steffen Künn (Maastricht University & IZA) and Robert Mahlstedt (University of Copenhagen & IZA) investigate the impact of Germany’s mobility assistance programs (MAPs) on the job search behavior of unemployed workers and how this affects their subsequent labor market outcomes.

Mobility assistance programs in Germany

Initially introduced in 1998, MAPs in Germany consist of six separate programs ranging from reimbursement for distant job interviews to relocation assistance. For example, travel cost assistance reimburses expenses for distant job interviews up to an amount of €300. The daily commute to a new job is financially supported with 20 cents per kilometer for the first six months. The relocation assistance program for those who permanently move to a new location provides full coverage of transportation costs up to €4,500.

Using the IZA Evaluation Dataset Survey, which comprises information on more than 17,000 individuals who entered unemployment between June 2007 and May 2008 in Germany, the authors were able to empirically analyze the impact of MAPs on job search behavior and labor market outcomes of these individuals.

Larger search radius

Regional differences in the promotion of MAPs, in combination with the detailed survey data, allow the researchers to analyze how the existence of these programs affect the job search behavior. The results show that reducing the costs of distant job search induces job-seekers to extend their search radius.

The increase in distant job search effort due to MAPs leads to a 16 percentage points higher probability of being regularly employed 12 months after entry into unemployment. Distant job seekers also realize significantly higher hourly earnings in the following job compared to local job seekers (15 percentage points), but they work fewer hours per week, resulting in an overall zero effect on monthly earnings.

Better promotion and more funding needed

It is important to note that the positive employment and earnings effects are generated by those job-seekers who actually become geographically mobile (either by commuting or relocating) and accept jobs in distant regions. Therefore, the study concludes that the German system of MAPs is indeed effective in bringing job seekers back to work by triggering them to increase their search radius, and providing financial support to accept geographically distant jobs. According to the authors, this is a “promising finding” in the light of relatively lost costs per participant.

This means for policy makers that better information about the availability of the programs must be accompanied by an increased budget for MAPs. The authors also suggest that the introduction or expansion of MAPs may be worth considering to stimulate geographically mobility not only within, but also between European countries to reduce disparities in unemployment rates.

Download the complete paper (IZA DP No. 11169):

See also a related previous paper by the same authors (IZA DP No. 9183), which was published in the Journal of Public Economics and covered in the German IZA Newsroom:

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